A court ruling to be thankful for this year: ‘Presidents are not kings’ | Dick Polman

December 2, 2019 6:30 am

As we survey the havoc that President Donald Trump and his sycophants have wreaked on the institutions of government, we can at least be thankful, during this holiday week, that the federal judiciary has steadfastly upheld our most enduring values.

Dick Polman Cagle Syndicate photo

Last Friday, for instance, a federal judge ruled that Trump broke the law when he concocted a fake “national emergency” to build his border wall, spending money far beyond the amount authorized by Congress.

He has been similarly rebuked by the courts for (among other things) trying to rig the 2020 Census, for trying to thwart the Dreamer immigration program, for separating families, for trying to monetize the presidency, and for hiding his tax returns.

He hasn’t been conclusively defeated on most of those fronts, but let’s be thankful for the judges who’ve hewed to the Founders’ faith in checks and balances.

And Monday, a federal judge authored what is, thus far, the most stinging rebuke of Trump’s imperial pretensions. Get ready for some awesome ruling excerpts. I read all 120 pages so you wouldn’t have to.

But first, some context: Trump has long insisted that he has an absolute right to stop aides from testifying on Capitol Hill – starting with Don McGahn, the former White House counsel who bailed on Trump in 2018. (According to the Mueller report, Trump ordered McGahn to fire Mueller. McGahn refused.

Trump also told McGahn that he wanted the Justice Department to investigate Hillary Clinton and James Comey. McGahn told Trump that was a bad idea.) Earlier this year, the House Judiciary Committee hit McGahn with a subpoena. Trump’s lawyers went to court to block it.

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The ruling Monday, by U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, orders McGahn to testify. She based her reasoning on decades of precedent, including a federal directive that compelled George W. Bush’s aides to testify. Judge Jackson wrote, “The blatant defiance of Congress…is an affront to the mechanism for curbing abuses of power that the Founders carefully crafted for our protection…”

Courtesy of Judge Jackson, here’s a Thanksgiving smile:

“Stated simply, the primary takeaway from the past 250 years of recorded American history is that Presidents are not kings. This means they do not have subjects, bound by loyalty or blood, whose destiny they are entitled to control. Rather, in this land of liberty, it is indisputable that current and former employees of the White House work for the People of the United States and that they take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States … per the Constitution, no one is above the law.”

Granted, this ruling settles nothing. Trump’s lawyers, still determined to bar McGahn from testifying (in the Mueller report, McGahn was quoted as complaining that Trump wanted him to “do crazy s—-”) have already announced that they will appeal Jackson’s decision to a higher court. Jackson says that her ruling also applies to “other current and former senior-level White House officials,” but it’s unclear whether one particular ex-senior aide – John Bolton – will be duly prompted to testify. As always, we’re compelled to stay tuned for further developments.

Nevertheless, we can be thankful for her eloquent defense of the rule of law. We can also be thankful for another Monday ruling, by another federal judge, who said that emails between the White House and Pentagon, concerning the freezing of military aid to Ukraine, should be released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Even as Trump continues to stack the courts, the Founders’ values may yet endure. Happy holiday week!

Capital-Star opinion contributor Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at His work appears on Mondays on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may email him at [email protected].

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Dick Polman
Dick Polman

Opinion contributor Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at His work appears on Mondays on the Capital-Star's Commentary Page. Readers may email him at [email protected].